Still Split

I couldn’t leave you wondering what happened next after the unanswered phone call at the end of yesterday’s post ….. I’m on a plane in Split when I should be in Sarajevo, where my friend L is waiting for me.

I put the phone back to my ear.  I would count another thirty rings before hanging up.  24, 25, 26

Suddenly it stopped.

‘Hello!’ An American voice, breathless.

‘Can I speak to L, please,’ my voice was uncertain.

‘Thank God!  It’s me.’  Relief.  Contact.  ‘Where are you?’

‘I’m in Split.  The airport’s closed.’

I explained the options.

‘Stay in Split.  I’ll meet you there.’ L insisted.

I heard L’s instruction, and realised that I really wanted to be looked after by Lufthansa.  My fear of getting off the plane and walking past armed soldiers into an airport that looked closed was greater than that of having to fly back to Munich.

‘I’ll meet you in the old town, stari gorod, like in Russian,’ and she gave me the name of a hotel plucked in an instant from a guidebook sitting by the phone.  ‘It should take me about 5 to 6 hours to get there.’

‘You’re not getting out here are you?’  The man sitting next to me asked.  It was just what I needed to galvanise myself.

‘Of course.  I don’t have time to go back to Munich,’ I said breezily.

I left him sitting on the plane as I joined the 20 or so other passengers on the tarmac.   Looking at them and listening I realised they were all Bosnian.  I was the only ‘foreigner’ getting off the ‘plane.

All of the baggage had been unloaded from the hold and piled nearby.  I found my bag and stood waiting for the next instruction.  One of the soldiers waved me towards the terminal building with his gun.  I walked into it slowly on my own, fearing I would be stopped at any moment.

No-one paid any attention to me.  I hesitated and then walked past empty baggage reclaim carousels towards a booth housing a uniformed border official.  He took my passport from me, stamped it vigorously and handed it back to me.  ‘Welcome to Split,’ he said.  And I was in.

The stark exterior of the building hid a brightly lit shining marble airport with clean toilets and foreign exchange counters and several taxis waiting for me outside in the sunshine.  Suddenly my confidence returned.  Despite all the appearances on the other side of the building, all the puffed chests and shouting and talk of wars, and the show of guns, I knew how things worked here.

The taxi driver spoke English, and when I told him the name of the hotel L had given me he said ‘What do you want to go there for?’ so I told him my story, and he offered to drive me to Sarajevo.  And then I knew everything was possible.

Roman remains in Split - could be Dioclesians palace

He took me to a small hotel in Split old town where my credit card secured room 101, twin beds, starched white sheets, brown and orange carpet up the walls, hot water but no plug in the sink nor bath, a view over the harbour to the sea.  And I started to enjoy myself.  The sun was shining; a row of canopied restaurants along the promenade sold big glasses of beer and black squid risotto.  All I had to do was find the other hotel and wait.

After I’d had some lunch and wandered around the market area and along the seaside promenade I found the hotel that L had suggested.  It was no more than a backpackers’ hostel.  I sat on a wall nearby to wait.  I didn’t dare move for a couple of hours in case I missed her in the maze of streets.

I spent the time imagining which direction she would come from, that every small woman I saw pass by was really her, and yet I was never more surprised to see a person as when she suddenly appeared around the corner.

We spent the next couple of days sitting in cafes in the sunshine drinking Italian wine disputing who had the more traumatic journey to this place that neither of us had ever intended seeing.

My ‘near miss’ was weighed against her tale of her first experience of driving in Europe.  She had a collision on the road leaving Sarajevo and received a traffic ticket for overtaking across a solid white line on the road through the mountains, issued by a tall blond haired young policeman who told her he had family in Denver when he saw her Colorado drivers licence.

We’d both had an adventure, and it would make a good tale which would improve in the telling.

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  1. brendan stallard

     /  April 15, 2011

    “I was the only ‘foreigner’ getting off the ‘plane.”


    LOL, courage? You have what they call here, “moxie.”

    Lots of it. Phew!

    Most people, after a terrifying plane ride, would go for the safe, SAFE option.

    “One of the soldiers waved me towards the terminal building with his gun.”

    Just like that, incidental detail. A wonderful spark to the page. If the reader has imagination, think of yer average Heathrow/Stansted copper doing that.

    “I didn’t dare move for a couple of hours in case I missed her in the maze of streets.”

    Indeed. The thing that leaped off this page for me, was Polonius to Laertes. “Those friends thou have, clasp them to thy heart with hoops of steel.”

    You have some good mates, who at the drop of a hat, will cross six hours of a war-torn country to come and get you at the wrong airport.

    Great tale. It took some living. I’d have loved to have seen a read-out from a heart rate monitor during those few hours:)



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